I found the delirious celebration over the resignation of tyrant Robert Mugabe in Harare this week, exhilarating, not because the crowds thought it was the end of the darkness, but because many surely knew it wasn't.
The BBC's anchor asked their correspondent, a Zimbabwean, what it made her think of. She said unhesitatingly: our liberation from colonial rule (and the odious name, Rhodesia) in 1980, when she was a girl. She seemed undisheartened that it had to be reprised and likely will have to be again in the future. Is this naiveté or sophistication?
It's true many had known only Mugabe's harsh rule, but they also knew he'll be replaced by his virtual shadow, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who'd been a freedom fighter, chief cop during the ethnic massacres of the 1980s in Matabeleland, and co-thief of the 2008 election. He has the same blood on his hands. The anchor managed to mislay his nickname, The Crocodile, applying it to Mugabe though it's used for Mnangagwa, but she inadvertently made a wider point.
Joy reigned unconfined in the streets. My favourite moment was a photo of a "Wenger out!" sign, meaning the manager of Arsenal's football team in the U.K. WTF? Yet why not? If one tyrant who wrecked lives full of promise could go, let’s toss the rest, including foul sports types. It seems to me people yearn for liberation in many ways at once. The great messianic movements of the Middle Ages were pan-revolutionary: religiously, politically, sexually, economically. They were antinomian. The only law would be: There are no laws! Go be happy, people.
I had a taste of that in the late 1960s: everything got transformed at once: sex, drugs, music, politics (just one piece of the chaos). It dismayed many of those who were older, even slightly, either because they feared the bedlam, or were envious since their lives were already so trammelled that they couldn't get in on it. Then it collapsed, quite swiftly (at the same moment that "Let It Be" hit the jukeboxes). Would anyone rather have skipped it, given the letdown? I doubt it. But reality descended abruptly and decisively.
Zimbabwe is an exuberant place, with exuberant names: Welshman Ncube, Godknows Mwanza, Canaan Banana -- it's like flipping the bird at Cecil Rhodes: You want to impose your English names? We'll do you one better. It's also Africa's most educated, literate country. Where's the sophistication right now?
It lies in giving yourself fully to the present while knowing it's transient, yet keeping in view, somewhere on the horizon, your larger goals. All victory parties are temporary and conditional, especially when you scarcely get to take a breath between the old tyrant and the new one. The only game available is the long game, for the end of which none of us will be around. That's pretty savvy.
As a sucker for westerns, I devoured the 10-odd hours of Longmire's final season in one near gulp. It was unsatisfying. It's as though it had to tie everything up by a known deadline; it careened toward its conclusion.
I've also started watching Godless to fill the cowboy void and I'm hoping it won't get extended, because then it won't need a drag-ass final season. It even happened in Justified, my all-time fave, a sort of Appalachian western. When a final season is announced it’s as if everyone starts playing the ending. Actors do this when they forget that they're in a moment, and depict it from beyond. I'd say this even applies to Game of Thrones. They rushed through the penultimate season, checking boxes and speeding up as the end nears.
The great thing about long-form TV has been its ability to amble around, even more than a novel. It turns out what it’s bad at is getting somewhere. More power to the ambling. Only The Sopranos, so far, got it right because it ended in the middle -- or did it? Showrunner David Chase said that the stranger at the counter in the last scene isn't meant to be ominous, though he could be. Exactly. The ominousness comes from us knowing it’s the last scene forever. The people in the café don't know that. Chase's final word? "All I know is the end is coming for all of us." Right, thanks Chase. I mean that: Right. Thanks.
This column was first published in the Toronto Star.
Photo: Louis Reynolds/Flickr
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